The following "play time" exercises are great for working people with no time. They're meant to involve little or no gear/time/trouble. Most of all, they're meant to be fun and relaxing. You're not the only one that might die of boredom after another longeing session- your horse needs a mental break too!
Lift & Stretch
There are lots of new studies out there that suggest horses can benefit from stretching just as much as humans athletes can. Stretching can help reduce soreness, provide relaxation, prevent cramps and even help a horse develop a round and collected way of going. Plus, it's always nice to be able to tell the vet, "Sure, he'll hold his leg up there, no problem," something you'll actually be able to do with a little daily stretching practice. You can find lots of stretching and even yoga examples like this one on Youtube, or in this fantastic article. Why not throw some massage in there too?
Take a Walk
I am constantly amazed at how many horses don't lead well. I see horses push ahead, bump into their handlers, jig around, etc. Some of it is nervousness, but much of it has to do with people who only lead their horses the very short distances from stall to pasture to trailer to arena and nowhere else. If you've fallen into that trap, now's the time to fix things. Take your horse for a walk. From your horse's point of view, its a rare and welcome moment when he gets to be with you, but doesn't have to carry you around. For you, it's an opportunity to work on ground manners, bond, and to introduce your horse to scary objects or areas while you're not in danger of being bucked off. Remember that the horse's head should stay at or just behind your shoulder.
|Remember, YOU are walking the horse-- don't let the horse walk YOU!|
Random Object & Food Fun
We want our horses to trust us. Unfortunately, just about the only time we work on that trust is when we run smack into a very scary situation while working-- like meeting that terrifying log while riding down the trail.Why not work on trust issues long beforehand? Get your horse to try new things with you in a controlled environment. Head into the arena or roundpen, then present your horse with strange objects. Show him an umbrella, a traffic cone, garbage bins, live chickens and anything else you can think of. Now that you're not in the saddle worrying about staying on, you can work on trust and desensitization calmly. Got a super-sensitive horse? Work on trust/desensitization with even less threatening objects-- like food. Give your horse a boring carrot, praise him, then offer him a pear, or some Frosted Mini Wheats, or even a banana. It's strange and new, but totally harmless and potentially delicious! Plus, you'll get a kick out of watching your horse's reaction.
This is one I need to work on, because I'm squeamish. A few times per year, you're faced with a situation where you have to do something to your horse that's uncomfortable, for him and maybe for you too. Worming, dental check, nostril swab, sheath cleaning, treating an injury, taking rectal temperature, checking the teats on a pregnant mare, etc. And what happens? Your horse throws a fit. Of course-- you never do that stuff unless you have to, so he's not used to it! Well, practice. Touch your horse everywhere, stick a finger in his mouth, etc. Yeah, I know, I get a little weirded out "groping" my horse-- it just doesn't seem polite. Plus, I'm always afraid someone is going to come into the yard and think, "Geez, that lady is some kind of teat-touching bestiality-loving pervert." Try to pretend that you're a vet, and this is routine-- which is exactly what you're preparing your horse for.
Mounting is another one of those things that we rarely work on, and then suddenly we wonder why our horse is walking off all the time. Spend fifteen minutes just asking your horse to stand still while you get up and down. Challenge yourself by mounting on both sides-- on the trail or in an emergency, you may not be able to mount "correctly." If you're short and round like me, this might be a good time to see if you can still make it into the stirrup without a mounting block. Don't overdo it, however; you'll only hurt yourself and your horse. If you are too round, why not take that walk I mentioned? Also, when was the last time you sat up there bareback? If the answer is never, it's time for your butt bones to say howdy to your horse's spine, up close and personal. You'll have better balance-- and a better appreciation of just what you're sitting on.